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Dress codes – who’ll be the judge?

Judge John Deed, from the BBC websiteI have already written on this blog about reforms to judicial dress in England and Wales (the image on the right is a well-known example of the previous judicial court dress). Now comes news that Ireland may follow suit. From today’s Irish Independent (with added links):

Fashion guru revamps judges’ robes

Fashion guru Louise Kennedy has been commissioned by the Chief Justice to create an unprecedented new range of designer robes for the country’s . Samples of the robes were unveiled last week by John Murray, the Chief Justice, during a judicial training day in Adare, Co Limerick. … it is feared that the cost of the inaugural judicial makeover could lead to the project, the brainchild of Judge Murray, being put on hold until the public finances improve. …

The last effort to change judicial attire occurred in the mid- 1920s when Hugh Kennedy — the first Chief Justice of the Irish Free State — sought to break from away from the English tradition by introducing an exclusive Irish range of robes. According to Judge Kennedy’s papers, there is correspondence on the planned design of judicial robes between Kennedy, William Butler Yeats and printmaker Charles Shannon. But the project did not attract political approval. …

I’m sure that the time has come for Irish judges to simplify their judicial dress, but I’m not sure I would go as far as the reforms across the Irish sea. I would phase out wigs, wing collars and bands, and the black coat and vest, leaving a streamlined requirement simply of a black Irish poplin gown over an appropriate dark suit. Moreover, I would have no objection to the idea of revising the design of the gown, though I will have to withhold judgment until (either) Kennedy’s designs are published. Moreover, if it happens on the bench, will the bar follow suit?

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5 Responses to “Dress codes – who’ll be the judge?”

  1. Neil says:

    The issue of Court dress is a complete side issue in legal reform. What is needed in Ireland immediately, for instance, is the long awaited codification of Criminal law, an extension of free legal aid for civil cases, and a review of counsel’s fees so as to make the Courts accessible to ordinary people. Significant reform of the Courts as regards rules and procedures has been made in recent years, however it is disappointing that the Courts are now less accessible to the public than in recent years and the Four Courts is like a Fortress in direct contravention of the Constitution that Justice is to be administered in public.

    Court dress is not the issue in reform. It is essential for people visiting the Courts that they are able to recognise Counsel and the Judiciary. The Rules of the higher and lower courts were amended some years ago providing for the optional wearing of a wig. However most Barristers have opted to continue wearing it in the Upper Courts, whilst it has disappeared from the Circuit Court and was never worn in the District Court from the inception of the State. What would be far more appropriate (as part of the agenda of reform) would be to remove the distinction between Counsel into Senior and Junior ranks, and by this token you would simplify court dress by removing the Silk Gown and fancy morning frock coat of Senior Council. Judges could continue to wear the garb of Senior COuncil to differentiate them from Counsel. Then you could phase out the wig altogether, which is both uncomfortable for Counsel and hopelessly archaic.

    With regard to Bands, I think these should be maintained because they match the white scarf worn by lawyers on Continent, and one only has to look at the new Speaker of the House of Commons to see how unsightly a simple Black Gown on its own looks. It would make Judges and Barristers look like teachers in an ambitious Community College, or at least a cranky University Professor.

    Why should we ape changes across the sea? In 1922 it was decided to simplify the dress for judges, who would wear the same garb of the former Court of Appeal, and the seasonal changes of colour and ridiculous dressing gown was phased out. In 1922 Attorney General Hugh Kennedy’s proposals for a new Court dress were without precedent or tradition, and those who wore them during the experiment were subjected to sniggering and unkind remarks. Kennedy attempted to recapture the robes of an Irish Brehon and these were supposed to be a rainbow coloured robe (not unlike the Gay flag), and the judiciary steadfastly refused to be subjected to such an indignity, and convincingly argued that nobody knew what a Brehon looked like, and the Free State was a Common Law jurisdiction and should continue to wear a standardised form of dress based in its own traditions.

    There is much in this, and the Irish Bar has a wealth of tradition which includes the form of dress, which is well recognised and invests the professsion with respect and authority. The phasing out of wigs will reinforce the profession with respect, and this should indeed be hastened. A simplified dress for Counsel with the back Poplin Gown of Junior Council and bands, for all, should continue, as it has historic roots and is similar to that worn in other EU Countries. The dress should also be extended to Solicitor’s when acting as advocates and this would help to blur the artificial distinction that grew up between the professions in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

    If the United Kingdom jurisdiction wishes to change their clobber, then that it their affair. We don’t have to copy everything they do – do we?? Let’s get over the ‘Colonial legacy’ issue, and face up to the fact that this is now our heritage and history. We wrecked Dublin in the mid 20th Century on similar philosophical grounds and the Georgian heart of the City was broken. Do we not regret this, will we regret other things? Just go to Edinburgh and you will see what a Georgian city should look like. I think many in the media are unduly obsessed on tights and fancy dress, and should spend more time holding the government to account on the disgraceful delay in reforming keys areas, particularly Criminal Law codification. Nobody really cares that Doctors wear White coats, or firemen and policemen wear uniforms, farmers wear wellies. All professions have some kind of standardised form of dress, even the business suit is a kind of uniform. Nobody really cares about this. Some things are worth keeping, but this does not mean that a profession should not reform or become stale or moribund. The legal profession is crying out for reform and if the people knew it there would be outcry.

    The profession needs reform in the following ways:-

    1. Education – The Law Society and King’s Inns monopoly on the training of Solicitors and Barristers needs to end. Rigorous standards also need to be met at the King’s Inns, where the quality of teaching was poor, however steps have been taken by the Bar in this regard, but much more needs to be done. The fees are also extravagent – over €20,000 per year. In 1996 they were IRE£1800 per year. The mind boggles at this inflation, even with a currency change, and fees should be capped to facilitate entry into the profession of all classes instead of South County Dublin fee paying schools. In order to do this, the law schools, like the Universities, need to be subsidised by the public purse, and this will bring regulation in its wake.

    2. Access to the Courts – an extension of legal aid to civil cases needs to be done. At present you would need an income of around 50p to get civil legal aid. The costs for a day in the High Court is prohibitive, and for many appeal is out of the question. Criminal Legal Aid was imposed by embarrassment upon this State by the Court of Human Rights in the late 1970s, which is pretty scandalous. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board was a step in the right direction, however it has done little to affect the operation of the Courts, and Solicitor’s and Counsel’s Fees (the former in particular) need to be examined.

    3. Fusion – the difference between solicitors and barristers, whilst the concentration of their work is indeed different, needs to be again revisited. Barristers in their declaratory oath must swear that they will not act as Solicitors. This test needs to be abolished, and Barristers should be allowed to practice in a manner similar to Solicitors and vice versa and thereby effectively fusing the professions as has been done in Canada – the world didn’t end there you know! By allowing direct access, you eliminate one unnecessary team of Lawyers immediately and it would bring fees radically down. THe difference between Senior and Junior Counsel must be abolished. THis will also improve competitiveness. SC is deemed a standard mark of quality, however surely BL qualifies as a standard in itself. The SC standard mark of quality is just more of the same uncompetitive nonsense justifying a legal system that conspires against its clients.

    4. Partnership – This poses a problem for both Solicitors and Barristers. There was a proposal recently to allow solicitors’ Partnerships to incorporate as limited companies, as has been the case in the UK for some time. I’m not sure if this has been done yet, but it would be a step in the right direction. However in the light of current events I would have concerns about the rights of clients in the event of bankrupcy and the rules concering Limited Liability. However there are ways around this such as piercing the corparate veil where wrong doing is established. Allowing incorporation would encourage sole practitioners and small practices to merge leading to a more vibrant and sustainable profession in Ireland. There are simply too many sole practitioners in the Solicitor’s profession. As regards the Barrister’s profession, all counsel are by peer pressure, sole practitioners. The Bar Council ruled out Chambers a few years ago following a poll of the nation’s Barristers. Effectively this squeezes out competition in the profession as young devils are left to pay for their own apprenticeships and then find it impossible to break into a market dominated by fat cats. It would be far more competitive (and fair) to have a Chamber’s Clerk allocating work around to all equally. The ‘Old boy network’ and courting of solicitors and contacts for work needs to come to an end. It should be your ability on your feet, and not a discering palate for fine wines and shooting that should dictate where the work is placed. The time for sole practitioners is well past its sell by date and is a legacy of the era when the profession was small and the legal system of the State less complex.

    5. Reform of the Statute Book – Imagine until the Attorney General’s Office set up the Online Statute Book it was absolutely impossible to follow the course of primary and secondary legislation in Ireland, and very little legislation, beyond the Finance Acts, were consolidated. As a result of this no one, including lawyers, could say with certainty what the current law was. The AGO Irish Statute Book was a step in the right direction, but it is riddled with errors and hopelessly behind current law. This is absolutely disgraceful and unacceptable in a modern state. The politicians should hang their heads in shame that the Acts of the Oireachtas and Statutory Instruments are in such rag order – shame.

    6. Codifying the Criminal Law – politicians have been blathering about this since 2003. It has been done nearly everywhere else by now (including in the early 19th Century by the Code Napoleon). McDowell was keen on this one, but since he has been booted out the impetus may have been put on hold.

    7. A review of Criminal Law Sentencing – The Courts and Prison Services are in a shambles. How can a Swiss girl in Galway be raped and murdered by a man who weeks before was arrested for a similar crime, blinded an old age pensioner and murdered a young man in a street fracas. What kind of criminal justice system fails like this? The judiciary need serious training on Sentencing and not political guidance on pressures of the prison system.

    8. Political Jobbery – It never ceased to amaze me who the Benchers of the Kings Inns were. We were supposed to bow to them as they processed robed into the Dining Hall, however I could never bring myself to bow to some of the washed out political hacks that used to swish past. The link between politics (one party in particular) and the Profession is unhealthy and barrier to reform. Like the medical profession the legal profession is an influential vested interest group in Ireland, and reform of the profession is intimately connected to reform of the political system. Senior Counsel (which should be abolished anyway) and the Judiciary are appointed by the Department of Justice in a particularly intransparent form. Some reform was done in relations to judicial appointments, but in reality it was more of the same. Should we vote for our judges?? Tempting, but personally I don’t think so on grounds that it could ultimately taints the judicial process, which must be independent. However why don’t we have a debate – there may be good grounds for it. The judicial process in Ireland is not currently independent as many judges owe their loyalties based on political allegiances. THE JUDICIARY IN A CONSTITUTIONAL SYSTEM SUCH AS OURS MUST BE INDEPENDENT. This is a challenge, and I have no suggestions, however it wouldn’t take a genious to find some means of selection.

    9. Justice delayed is justice denied – getting a decision from judges can take years, particularly in civil cases. The former Chief Justice, Mr Justice Hamilton, admirable man though he was, was notorious in this regard. The cost involved in litigation and the importance of taking criminals off the streets requires a courts system that moves promptly in both fairness to litigants, accused and appelants. The solution is not appointing more judges or staff in the Court registry system. It is making the system work for people and educating the profession right across the Board, from Judges to Clerks, that they are a service industry providing a service to their clients. The client comes first!

    Reporting is also a disaster, and we must be the only common law jurisdiction where we still rely on tatty unreported judgments for years. I mean seriously in a system based on precedent this is pretty ghastly. In the UK cases are almost reported weekly or monthly.

    To summarise, wigs, gowns, frock coats, wellies and white coats – who cares. Why should we care about these things. If people want to wear pink underpants leave them off, its a democracy after all. All professions regulate themselves with some form of dress based on tradition. Certainly this can be simplified, but the simplification should also take into account the historical precents. If you break too radically with the past you open the public to taking the profession less seriously and indeed invite ridicule. The Guard’s new uniforms are particularly ugly and not suited to some of our more rotund officers. Looking at the robes introduced in England and Wales by the Lord Chief Justice, I can’t see that something similar would look all that complimentary on some of our Judges.Certainly wigs are ridiculous, but bands (with whatever collar) and a black gown give sobriety to proceedings. Let’s leave Louise Kennedy to designing Tipperary Glass. Justice is a serious matter and not to be taken or entered into lightly, and clients don’t expect to see somebody looking like a clown on the Bench (even if they might actually be one!!!)

    Instead of the unhealthy curiousity with fancy dress media needs to have more persons trained in the profession with an knowledge of its mysteries. Certainly the way they ganged up on the decision last week with regard to Monica Leech, whose good name and business was destroyed, is demonstrative of a lack of appreciation for the disgraceful manner in which that client was libelled.

    A better quality of reporting leads to more accountability. As things stand the Legal profession is infantile and utterly conspiratorial in its attempts to undo the rights of the consumer. The profession needs to be fused, sole practionership needs to come to an end and senior council abolished. Direct access to counsel in proceedings also needs to be undertaken. The link with political patronage broken and judicial appointments open to scrutiny. The profession also needs proper regulation, and supervision. THe existing system and Solicitor’s Acts are in need of reform: the Bar has no statutory supervisory forum – what a disgrace – booo. Legal education needs to be reformed to be more inclusive. That statute books needs to be brought up to date and consolidated. Criminal Law codification needs to be completed. Wake up folks, its not about the gowns its about reform. It makes my blood boil when I see valuable newspaper print wasted on clothes where the legal profession is like the Emperor and has no clothes and nobody is prepared, or seems competent, to cry naked!

  2. Scott says:

    Re Robes, yes they are a side issue but people are affected by how they and other’s dress. If the police were to start wearing a checked mini dress in the summer on the grounds it was cool to wear they would be unable to do their job because they would be made a laughing stock. Court dress both identifies and distances the wearers from everyday life and that is a good thing: courts are serous places where serious business is transacted. The very idea of designer designing robe sis misplaced. Fashion designers care naught for history and much for image and the robes they produce will almost always look ridiculous and will date vey quickly. The English judges look ridiculous in their new Ming the Merciless robe!
    I agree with Neil the best option, which respects tradition and is also the cheapest, because exiting robes can be used would be to stick with black gown and bands. Where I disagree is over the wig. For all practical purposes the public of Ireland, Scotland and England associate the wig with lawyers as much as a mitre with a bishop. We should be wary of tampering with such icons of the law.
    .

  3. […] (update: and is covered by the Times here; I must say I much prefer their new gowns to those now being worn the UK’s other courts). The televising of the Court is one aspect of the range of […]

  4. […] has also been explained as an austerity move. Either way, the question arises: with wigs gone, will a revamp of judicial gowns be far […]

  5. […] most have since abandoned the horsehair. At the time, I posed the question, with wigs gone, whether a revamp of judicial gowns would be far behind. It wasn’t. As Dearbhail McDonald reports, fashion designer Louise […]

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Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I'm Eoin O'Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie - the Irish for rights.

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